By  on February 5, 2007

Executives at Roger Vivier have a clear vision of what constitutes luxury.

They define that oft-used term as exquisite, unique and well-made products delivered with white-glove service in a decadent environment. With its first U.S. store slated to open Saturday at 750 Madison Avenue in New York, the fervently French accessories firm is intent on showing the competition just how it's done.

In 2002, after four years in limbo following Roger Vivier's death, Diego Della Valle, the Italian founder of Tod's, Hogan and Fay, acquired the brand name and tapped French footwear designer Bruno Frisoni — who has a namesake accessories line — to be the brand's creative director. Former Karl Lagerfeld muse and Chanel model Ines de la Fressange was called in to be brand ambassador.

Della Valle has an affinity for plucking talent for his brands and for reviving storied houses. In November, he appointed Derek Lam creative director of Tod's to oversee the brand's ready-to-wear, bags and shoes. Della Valle also owns the rights to Elsa Schiaparelli, which sources said he planned to revive soon.

In 2004, Frisoni reintroduced Vivier to the world as not only a footwear company, but also a maison, rife with all accessories categories.

Vivier, the Parisian footwear designer, came to fame through his work at Christian Dior, where he developed the stiletto heel. In 1963, he established an eponymous house in Paris, where a whimsical parade of mod pumps, over-the-knee boots and pilgrim buckle shoes — most memorably worn by Catherine Denueve in 1967's "Belle du Jour" — earned him a reputation as a footwear couturier. He died at age 91 in 1998.

The firm has shops-in-shops in Saks Fifth Avenue's New York flagship and in Neiman Marcus' Los Angeles store. But now the focus is on the 3,000-square-foot, three-story Manhattan outlet in a historic town house.

"We're concentrating all our efforts now on our Madison Avenue store," said Anne Line Hansen, who worked at Giorgio Armani and joined the firm last month as general manager and oversees the firm's retail, wholesale and marketing divisions, in addition to day-to-day operations. "The American market is [ready to] welcome Vivier. Our department stores are trading 60 percent above plan, which is pretty incredible."The brand is already growing, with a 69.7 percent jump in sales to 6.5 million euros, or $8.2 million, for the 12-month period ended Dec. 31, according to Tod's SpA most recent earnings report.

Along with moving into more product categories, the brand plans to strategically and slowly enter more U.S. doors with existing accounts like Neiman's and Saks — and the demand is there, Hansen said. Saks Fifth Avenue took $100,000 in orders for the Belle Vivier shoe before it hit the store in April 2005. And Bergdorf Goodman has expanded its selection for spring to include bags in addition to shoes. It is possible Vivier will go into smaller specialty shops on a case-by-case basis.

"Roger Vivier handbags and shoes are an excellent additional offering with unique and innovative styling," said Sandra Wilson, accessories fashion director for Neiman Marcus.

Internationally, the brand is available at 30 stores, including Colette in Paris and 10 Corso Como in Milan. In the past two years, the firm has opened boutiques in London and Hong Kong. Up next are stand-alone units in Milan and Russia, second stores in Paris, London and possibly Los Angeles, and locations in the Middle East with strategic partners.

There is no set Vivier store format, but, like the Paris store, the boutiques are based on Roger Vivier's Paris apartment. The shops are a modern, icy pink, full of natural light and decorated with an eclectic mix of mid-20th-century and contemporary furniture, African masks, important paintings and custom lighting fixtures. The New York store, which was designed by architectural firm Vudafieri Partners and decorated by De La Fressange, has an 18th-century Segoura armoire, Hervé van der Straeten console and several paintings.

Hansen is employing another strategy that she said directly affects the bottom line in the U.S. and U.K. — celebrity. The company has made a major push to dress the Hollywood set and it counts Katie Holmes, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet, Demi Moore and Jennifer Lopez as fans on and off the red carpet.

"It is what I like to call the Hollywood factor," said Hansen, who is considering doing a red-carpet collection. "I remember when it was only dresses and jewelry talked about [on the red carpet]. Now, it's about accessories. It directly affects retail performance and the two are definitely correlated."Product-wise, Frisoni is putting the pedal to the metal. He has kept brand hallmarks, like the signature buckle and updated closure on the Belle Vivier shoulder bag, on cuff bracelets, on ballet flats and on the temple of sunglasses, produced by Marcolin, which bowed in 2006.

"Vivier is an old, beautiful name in the fashion world," Frisoni said. "My job is to keep it classic — and classic is not bad; to give fashion force, keeping the [traditional] motifs as an education for everything. It's important to bring the brand as a recognizable name."

There are plans to launch watches, men's shoes and accessories, and there is potential to grow into ready-to-wear.

Prices are high but in a wide range. Sunglasses start at $445, and bags retail from $750 to $30,000 for exotic skins; footwear starts at $525 and can run to more than $15,000. There is a made-to-order collection of shoes and bags, which typically premieres during the Paris couture shows in January and July, although the company skipped this season in preparation of the New York store. Prices for couture start at $7,000.

Bags are a big push for the brand. But Vivier's day satchels and clutches are more tailored than such big bags as Chanel's Coco Cabas and Yves Saint Laurent's Downtown bag.

"To a lot of people, Vivier is a shoemaker," said Frisoni. "For us, Vivier is a maison of accessories. Now, a lot of people are pushing weekend bags. I'm more interested in sophisticated clutches and smaller bags."

But giving the consumer the full pampered brand experience is the focus.

"Luxury is not just selling expensive things or about selling things with big names. Luxury is about treating a customer well," said de la Fressange. "There's a lot of product, but people need to be helped. We don't want to just be a shoe shop."

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